Why You Should be Happy With What You Have


I need to start with a disclaimer.  I am happy with what I have, but I am admittedly comfortable.  I have a paid for house, two paid for (albeit old) cars and a decent cash flow.  Would I still be happy if I lost it all?  Hmmm.  I would like to think so, but I don’t suppose I will find out unless that happens.  Still, because I realize that happiness does not come from the accumulation of stuff, I hope I could be happy even if my net worth was zilch.

But enough about me.  What do you need to make you happy?  A nicer car?  A better paying job?  A bigger house?  The newest cell phone?  Now let me ask another question: do you truly believe that these things will give you long term happiness?  My guess is that life has taught you that whatever mood boost you might receive won’t last.  It never does.  The moment you get the latest and greatest, the euphoria dissipates and you begin longing for something else.  Am I right?

Why Stuff Won’t Make You Happy

Our problem is that we try to satisfy a basic human need with something that won’t work.  Our spirits cannot achieve peace, contentment and happiness with more stuff.  Striving to do so is akin to a drug addiction: the short term high and a long term let down induces us to dig in, try for even more and better stuff, get that short term high again, and find ourselves back where we started.  Simply put, a self-centered life will never produce happiness.

What Does Make You Happy

Because humans are created in the image of God, we need to look at the character of God to figure out what makes us tick.  I John 4:8 tells us that God is love.  What does this mean?  That God, who gave His only Son for us (John 3:16) is a giver.  This is why  Jesus told us that it is better to give than receive.  Do you want to be happy?  Try serving others.

But how can I be happy when I don’t have anything?

Joe, I agree that “stuff” won’t make me happy and that it is better to give than receive, but I am having trouble being happy when I barely have enough food to eat.  How can I be happy with what I have?’

I knew this question was coming, and I don’t have an easy answer.  But stick with me.  There is nothing wrong with wanting the essentials of life.  Even Paul, who had learned to be content whether  he had much or had nothing (Phil 4:11-12), told Timothy,  “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (I Tim 6:8).  I know this isn’t easy to hear, but some of the happiest people in history barely had food to eat.  Paul was content.  Jesus was full of joy.  Mother Teresa was at peace.

I readily admit that I haven’t walked a mile in your shoes, but Paul, Jesus, and Mother Teresa have.  I am sure that they would all agree that happiness is possible in abject poverty, and that more possessions will never increase that happiness.  On the other hand, Jesus commended the poor widow (Luke 21:2) who gave her last two coins.  Even if you have very little, you will be happier if you find a way to serve others.

A Spiritual Discipline

Happiness is an elusive quality – one that cannot be achieved by seeking it.  However, when we place ourselves in the hands of God, happiness will find us.  In a world where we are constantly bombarded with advertisers who are trying to sell us happiness in a box, it is easy to succumb to those allures.  When we do, we place ourselves on a path toward self absorption, exhaustion and depression.  On the other hand, when we dovetail our lives with God’s plans, regardless of how much or how little we possess, we will discover happiness.  Trying to find happiness anywhere else will always result in frustration.

Are you happy with what you have?  Why or why not?  Leave a comment below!

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  1. TB at BlueCollarWorkman

    THis is a great post becuase that is a trap we all fall in to. THinking that seeing that new movie will make us happy. Buying the new phone. Pulling up in that new swanky car. I find that once basic necessities (food, bare minimum clothing) are met, there’s nothing more than can be bought to bring you happiness. I know when people are literally starving or literally do not have a shirt to put on their back that they find happiness difficult to find — but most of us aren’t like that. Most of us have a shirt, many shirts, and most have food, too much food. And so we actually have all that we need for happiness.

  2. William @ Drop Dead Money

    I grew up in Africa where I saw people being genuinely content with what my mind screamed was woefully insufficient. But I learned: if they can be happy with THAT I have to be very, very careful with myself. It’s like Paul said: therewith to be content.

    Did that stop me from being a materialistic yuppie when I graduated from college and jumped on the fast track? Uhh, no. Well, actually, it probably was good, because I got to experience first hand the emptiness of “shtuff.” And we learned how true this post is.

    So here we are, fat, dumb and happy! (Oops – the first two don’t apply to my wife, let me say that before the happy disappears! LOL)

    • Josh @ Live Well Simply

      William, last year I was privileged to go to Ghana, West Africa and saw a lot of happy people living with less than I’ll ever experience. Their happiness seemed to come from their family and relationships, not their meager food supply or simple housing. 🙂

      Funny, though how we still pursue stuff even after an experience like this. I think it’s a combination of marketing and a culture that encourages consuming more and more stuff.

    • Joe Plemon

      Josh, I have been on many short term mission trips to Mexico where we have encountered people who are happy in spite of living in abject poverty. As you say, their happiness comes from family and relationships. They always reinforce those principles in me and in my fellow team members, but we (like you) find it is easy to slide into a consumer mindset after coming back to the States. Still, the accumulative lessons from those trips have slowly molded me, in a good way, to learn that happiness can never come from stuff.

  3. josh frye

    HI.I respect what you say about happiness, that you can be content with food and clothes, and i believe it too. My problem is i am so poor i cant pay attention half the time. No matter if i had a million dollars in the bank or just enough to eat, which, is a struggle for me at the moment I don’t have peace. You see i have brain damage from oxygen deprivation. Doctors can’t help, and i am not about to get a labotomy or shock treatment. What does god want me to do?

    • John Frainee

      Josh, I’m sorry to hear about your condition. Seek the Lord on this – you don’t need anyone to communicate to God for you, pray and talk with your Creator! Certainly, having others pray is great, but remember that you can talk with God too! 🙂

  4. James Corbin

    Seriously, Paul, Jesus, and Mother Teresa side by side? Mother Theresa belonged to a church that holds church tradition to be equal to Scripture. Because of this, many heretical beliefs such as praying to the Virgin Mary, forbidding priests to marry, etc. are held by the Roman Church.

    There is much to question about Mother Teresa herself. There is an online book which details much of this: Mother Teresa: the Final Verdict which is found at the Meteor Books website: http://www.meteorbooks.com. Disclaimer: I have no association with this company. It is commendable that they actually put the full book online for anyone to read without payment.

    • John Frainee

      James, in contrast to Jesus, all of humanity falls short. But that doesn’t mean that fallen human beings don’t speak or live the truth sometimes. You know?

      That’s an interesting take on Mother Theresa . . . I should study her life a bit more. I don’t know very much about her, but I hear she was pretty humble and had a giving spirit.

    • Joe Plemon

      James, I wasn’t trying to deify Mother Teresa or endorse her belief system. I was simply pointing out that it is possible to be happy without having a bunch of stuff. From what I know of her, she was. But I admittedly don’t know a whole lot about her, so I appreciate you sharing the link to this online book.

  5. Sue

    Wow, timely question as my husband and I are adjusting to living with almost less than half of what we used to and when his current job ends in a two years or less (maybe this December) we will be living on less than half the money we used to get.

    My husband retired about 10 years ago but went back to work after a year. I was still working at the time but Illness took me out of the workforce. I have had a few jobs since but none that paid what I made before. My husbands current job pays well but he only works 3 days a week. We never had a lot of money but with a small inheritance we put a down payment on a vacation home and paid it off over the years we worked and with his retirement money. He got a one lump settlement and a monthly check for the rest of his life that transfers to me if I live longer than him. We sold the vacation home to pay off our primary home. The economy being what it is and the other circumstances caused us to get less for the home that we had hopped but we have a small nest egg and no house payment.

    Eventually if we actually get to draw Social Security we will have a bit more when neither of us can work any more. But is it enough? I don’t know. Right now we are fine and able to save. But When he stops working we will only make a bit less than $2000 a year over our monthly bills.

    So the question if you lost it all is one that we face daily for real. We wish we had planned better but didn’t know we were not planning well. We have all we need but what about replacing what wears out? Buying clothes, birthday present, Christmas, and such? It all adds up. What about an accident or Illness? All are concerns but our one comfort is that God takes care of His people and we have seen many of the ways he does that for us. So we are adjusting to being with much less but it is a struggle. I suggest to every live on the least you can but make sure you include fun and some wants in with the needs and plan better than you think you are for retirement.

    • Joe Plemon

      Sue — I love the fact that your “one comfort is that God takes care of His people”. I wish you and your husband the best as you learn to balance your lives and your finances, but simply knowing that God is ultimately your source will, I am certain, keep you two happy in spite of some uncertain financial times.

  6. Zach @ Milk and Honey Money

    Amen! This is a tough one, both for the poor and the rich.

    I would like to think I’m happy with what I have, but it’s a struggle and something that must be kept in check at all times. Paul is a great example. He was filled with joy even when locked up in chains!

  7. James

    Sorry, I really disagree with the entire point of this posting. The only true way to achieve financial security is to build up enough a cushion such that you’re protected against layoffs, divorce, illness, etc – all of the bad things that could happen.

    If you tell people to be happy with what they have, then you are doing them a disservice – you are telling them essentially to remain financially vulnerable – thats not what god wants and its certainly not good advice.



    • John Frainee

      James, I think that the author here is saying that we should be happy with what we have and avoid excessive spending, but I don’t think they are against saving money for emergencies. You know?

    • William @ Drop Dead Money

      James, I think you’re assuming it’s an either/or proposition. It doesn’t need to be. I can be happy/content with what I have and still strive to improve my lot for many reasons. For example, while I have enough for my needs today, I may feel that adding another month’s cushion to my emergency fund is worth doing.

      Furthermore, being content doesn’t mean I have to invest at the top of the market when I know from past experience we get a recession every 7-10 years. We still have to be prudent and responsible with what we have, even though we’re happy or content.

      I guess an analogy would be: I’m satisfied with my car, but that doesn’t stop me washing it, servicing it and now and then improving it.

    • Joe Plemon

      James — I can see how you could conclude that this post is a call to “remain financially vulnerable”, but I didn’t intend to give that message. Contentment does not mean becoming lackadaisical or sloppy with our finances; it means being happy no matter where we are financially. You believe that you can build enough cushion to be protected against bad things. I wish you well, but does this plan (if it is indeed even possible) mean that you will not be happy/content until you reach that plateau? I hope not.

      I agree with William — this is not an either/or proposition. We should be wise financially, but not base our happiness on reaching any financial goal. The Apostle Paul said “Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty.” Phil 4:11,12. The Message

      With Paul’s “recipe”, we will always be happy with what we have.

  8. Stephanie

    What a great post and so timely! I’ve been dealing with this very issue lately! There is always something else to want or “need” and when does it ever end? You buy a house, and then want a bigger house…buy a car, then want a newer car…on and on! My husband and I have just started a major purge in our house to get rid of everything that is not needed – all the excess. The point is for us to be content with what we have, to have peace upon entering our home, not the feeling we need to keep striving for more! My needs for today, for this moment, are provided for. I know that my God will supply all my needs, and he hasn’t let me down yet!

    • Joe Plemon

      Stephanie — Proactive purging! What a great way to insure that God (not stuff) is our source of peace and contentment. Even better, you and your husband are doing this together. Kudos to you both!

  9. Monica

    My fiance says that I am bitter due to that I am not happy with myself and where I am at and I have to say that it is true. I have been through a lot and I want the best for myself and my twins that I try so hard to help others but I get no appreciation for what I do, unless it’s from my mom, brother and in-laws. My heart hurts for those on the streets and for the children that I want to help them anyway that I can but without the “paper” to stand by that I have an education it’s nothing. I try not to be unhappy around some but when I get home I am lonely and not satisified. I love God with all my heart and try to do my best. I want to do so much and don’t have the time nor money. I want to own my own business and to be on my own but some business mentors tell me that I can not do it due to the field and age of workers I want to train – Teens. I am discouraged. I am content with most things and others not so much. I was born 2 lbs and on the edge of death so I am truly blessed. I pray and cry all the time. I am not ungrateful. Sorry didn’t mean to ramble on.

    • John Frainee

      Hang in there Monica. Look to the Lord for guidance.

  10. Jewely Isham

    This is a good article. What gets me is the “better paying job”… the economy has placed me in the “just a job that I won’t feel stupid in” – I’ve been unemployed for a while, with a Bachelors Degree in Accounting. I find maybe one or two jobs a MONTH that I am qualified for. Being at a job where I say “would you like fries with that” would put me over the edge – I have considered suicide over such jobs… I don’t want my large house – but due to the economy, we had to dip into the equity to try and get our son an education (that he threw away by not going to class even in the first semester) – so we’re upside down and unable to sell the house – and those wonderful refinances have not helped but about $25 a month (we try to keep up with the mortgage, so they can’t help us – they can only help if you’re way behind in payments – go figure). Friends? yep, good idea. Where are they? At church, yes, “oh, let’s pray… I’m worried about you”, but when you are looking for the gun in your husband’s sock drawer, they just don’t seem to have the time. Family? well, all in a different state – ‘cept for the husband who calls my extreme depression a “pity party” – and doesn’t listen when the counselor tells him differently. Divorce? I’m against it…Murder/Suicide? Also against. So, I guess I’m ok with what I have as far as material things, but I want out of everything else… so where does the happiness / contentment come? “Oh, read your Bible and Pray – God does love you” – yep, heard it over and over and over – so far, no good. I read, I pray, I KNOW… but not feeling it – and just telling me it, sorry, not gonna help. I’m in counseling, but I don’t know how much that helps. At least I can truthfully say, I am content with the material things I have. Do I want more – just a job to clean up debt, and maybe someday save a nest egg… but jobs aren’t out there… and like I said – don’t tell me to take the “fries with that?” job, as I have done that, and doing something that doesn’t challenge my brain causes me to really go down a depression to real thoughts of suicide.

    • Sue

      You are going on my prayer list. I have been where you are and I know this may sound crazy to you but I have a list of things that got me out of depression.
      1. Forgive. Say it out loud. “I forgive ______ for _______ not because I feel like forgiving but because God told me to and every time I get angry over it and want to take the forgiveness back I will say this again.” Then say it a thousand times a day backed with a prayer to God that if you walk His way in faith He will bring the feels later. And He will.

      2. Speak Gods word to Him. “Lord you say in verse ________ that You will take care of my need. and in John 10:10 you say that you came to give me an abundant life, and in this verse you say ________. I don’t know how you are going to do it but I know your word is truth and You will do what You say. It looks bleak but you are the God of turning things around. So I will wait on you and I will mount up with wings like an eagle.”

      3. Stop complaining. (find the verse because you need to get back into His word.)

      4. Read Ps. 91, Everyday. Praying for you. God only want the best for you Jerimiah 29:11 He has good plans for you.

      5. Fast.

  11. Joe Plemon

    Jewely — I am not a counselor, so I don’t intend to give any “counseling sounding” advice. But, after reading and re-reading your comment, and assuming you are already a Christian, I can think of only one thing which I think would make you happy. Start volunteering to help those less fortunate than yourself. You are unemployed, so use your “down time” to visit senior citizens in nursing homes or help out at a soup kitchen or volunteer at a children’s hospital. You might even consider going on a short term mission trip to a third world country. Give it a try! You might develop a happiness you never before experienced.